Copenhagen hosts World Conference of Women

Five years ago at a meeting in Mexico City, the United Nations launched the Decade of Women. Today in Copenhagen the Second World Conference of Women Begins reviewing the progress since then and working out a plan of action for the next five years.

While the meeting in Mexico was aimed at mobilizing women and their governments to begin to look at the rights and problems of women, the Copenhagen conference will be looking at practical goals in education, health, and employment. It will be trying to work out a plan of action for the coming five years.

The delegates are almost certain to record great differences in the gains, or setbacks made by women in different parts of the globe in the first half of the UN decade.

For Western women, the five years has seen notable progress as their educational status has improved and as they have entered the job market in massive numbers. But, at the same time, many of these newly educated or employed women continue to run their households much as in the past, giving them double shifts.

In developing countries, modernization often leaves women behind. A United Nations photograph typifies their plight: it shows a woman carrying a heavy load of firewood on her back -- a traditional woman's job -- along a road which has a traffic jam of oil tankers.

In rural poor areas, it is the job of women to carry water for the household if there is no running water. Women are responsible for raising about half of the food and for refining grains as well as caring for children.

An expected 1,500 delegates from 150 countries will attend the two and a half week world conference here which is staged in the sleekly modern Bella Center. The concrete and steel structure stands in sharp contrast to the colorful African dress, Indian, saris, and other traditional clothes worn by many of the arriving delegates.

Iran's 10 women delegates turned up a day early wearing modest head scarves, as befits the requirements of the Islamic government, while one male Iranian delegate wore blue jeans. They declined to talk with reportes.

With 37 members, including three men, Iran's delegation appears to be the largest. At least two countries, South Africa and Saudi Arabia are not sending any representatives.

Although the focus is on women, the question of Palestinian refugees as well as apartheid have been tacked on the agenda by the UN General Assembly in an effort that some women have criticized as diluting the conference.

US delegate Chairman Sarah Weddington, a White House adviser, has protested the inclusion of the Palestinian item, noting that there are "other, more appropriate forums," for discussing it.

Longtime observers of the international women's progress Kathleen Newland of the Worldwatch Institute in Washington, D.C., however, said recently of the additional items, "It doesn't distress me. The conference has to operate in the real political world. If those things didn't come up, it would be a sure sign that the conference was not being taken seriously."

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